Slackjaw: My Coney Island of the Mind

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It was like this. Late Tuesday afternoon, Morgan and I stopped into the bar to get a couple drinks. We'd been at another place earlier, but by 4:30 or so it had already come to resemble a frat party, so we split. We aren't by nature bar hopperswe tend more toward hunkering down and riding out the eveningbut sometimes the crowd forces us into it. We needed a few beers that night, but we didn't need the noise and the buffoonery.

Trying to find a bar in the East Village these days that doesn't resemble a frat party has become increasingly difficult, but we had a few places in mind. One joint in particular that had never really been one of our regular destinations was starting to become one, if only because we knew it was almost always near empty.

So we walked a few blocks, took our seats at the bar, and ordered a round. It was, as we'd hoped, very quiet. There were only three or four other people at the far end of the bar, and they were keeping it to themselves. Instead of baseball or a soccer game, the televisions were all showing Imitation of Life. I took that as another good sign. Better than baseball, anyway. We drank our beers and talked. Then we ordered another round.

Imitation of Life ended, and The Loved One began. That was even better news. We do love that movie. The beers kept coming.

It was dark outside by the time The Loved One ended. It was right about then that I heard someone near the front of the bar tuning up his concertina. Maybe it's because Lawrence Welk was a distant relative of mine, but I've always been a sucker for accordion-like instruments. Soon, he was joined by a fiddle player and a few others, and they started tearing their way through a set of traditional Irish folk tunes, most of which I recognized. Morgan and I decided that, by God, another round or two was definitely in order.

Some time laterhard to say when, exactly, things being a little fuzzywe agreed that we should probably get something to eat. It was too late to put a bottom on our bellies, but at least we could put a top on them. So we left the bar and got a burger and a pile of onion rings.

After that, it was time to head home. I had to be at work in the morning, and it was already well past my bedtime. Morgan walked me to the 6 platform and waited for the train. I transferred to the F. Ten stops, then home.

I think I remember that first stop. Maybe the first two.

When my eyes slowly opened on the train again, the first thing I noticed was that we were aboveground. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The conductorwho, apart from a lousy PA system, apparently also had a severe speech impedimentannounced Smith/9th Street.

I was glad I hadn't missed my stop. That hadn't happened in awhile, but when it did, it happened far too often. I relaxed again and focused on the dots of light outside the window. Something about them didn't seem to fit the usual pattern, but I just put that down to being tired and drunk.

The station we pulled into didn't seem quite right, either. Not for Smith/9th, anyway. It was much larger and brighter than it had been just a night or two earlier. Again, groggy as I was, I didn't let it bother me too much.

I looked around the train. There were about as many people in that car as had been there when I got aboard. The train left the station, and once more I tried to fit the distant lights into the old pattern. It seemed I was doing a pretty good job of it, too, until I saw the brightly lit gas station, and what I think was a sign for a used furniture store. They didn't belong there at all.

Then we pulled into Coney Island, end of the line. Yes, there were as many people on the train as had been there back in Manhattan, but they were all asleep.

It had been years since this had happened, but at least I remembered the routine. Just walk across the platform. But there was no waiting train. I remembered that they'd completely renovated the station, so maybe things were set up differently.

I walked up the stairs and began wandering around, looking for signs, anything. It was the day after Labor Day, and Coney had shut down for the season.

I'd almost like to think there was some intention, subconscious or otherwise, that landed me at Coney that night. Morgan and I had been talking for weeks about trying to sneak in a visit before everything was gone for good, but we'd never had the chance. I'd like to think there was something deep in my brain pushing me along, insisting that I get down there one last time, but I doubt it.

I was drunker than I should've been, and tired, and I'd passed out on the train the way I used to, is all. And now that I was down there, I didn't feel even the slightest temptation to leave the station and make a quick visit out to the darkened boardwalk. It was only a block away, and would've only taken a few minutes, but I wasn't interested.

It took a minute or two to see what the deal was. It was simpler than I realized. I turned and walked back to the same flight of steps I'd just come up, and returned to same platform where the same train was waiting, its doors open.

I stepped inside the same car where half a dozen people were still sleeping peacefully, found the same seat I'd rode down in, sat down and waited for the doors to close.

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